Even though Jeff Gordon kept his bid for a fifth Sprint Cup championship alive with a victory last weekend at Martinsville Speedway, he still needs some help to truly turn the Chase into a three-horse race.
Gordon did what he had to do, but so did the two competitors he’s looking up at in the standings, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson. A runner-up for Kenseth and a fifth for Johnson at Martinsville kept Gordon from making a serious points move; he sits in third place, 27 points behind the deadlocked Kenseth and Johnson going into Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
With three races left in the 2013 season, every mistake made will now become magnified. But Gordon isn’t hoping for trouble to befall his title rivals. Instead, he’s sticking to the game plan.
“We’ve got to try to put pressure on them and put fast race cars out there to do that and then see what the results are after each race,” Gordon said Friday at TMS before qualifying eighth for Sunday’s race.
“Even last week, we win the race and we really didn’t really gain that much on those guys. They’re very solid teams, solid drivers, and they run good everywhere. And I expect them to run good these three remaining races as well.”
Gordon figures he’ll need to be within “10 or 12 points” of the lead going into the Nov. 17 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to think of himself as a contender.
But while he’ll push hard to make legitimate gains on Kenseth and Johnson at Texas and Phoenix (Nov. 10) before closing the season in South Florida, he’s been in the sport long enough to know that he can’t push too hard.
To Gordon, it all comes down to knowing the limits.
“In my experience over the years, most of the times when you try too hard, you fail,” he said. “You’ve got to push yourself within the limits of the car and within the limits of yourself…As we all know, every green flag pit stop and entry on to pit road, every restart and every lap is so crucial that it’s all about being calm.”
“That’s the thing that I think separates the top five or six teams from the others that are out there right now is that those teams all have quite a bit of confidence in what they’re doing.”
Ever since being bestowed a Chase spot by NASCAR following September’s race manipulation incident at Richmond, Gordon’s confidence, as well as his team’s confidence, has grown. They’ve been able to stay consistent and last weekend, they got the win they needed.
And thus, they’re still in the championship conversation.
“We’re just proud to be where we’re at and we just hope that we can keep that up,” he said.